The civilian equivalent of an incomplete military coup

By Sam Ohuabunwa

Nigeria has experienced a couple of incomplete military coup d’états. An incomplete coup is one in which the intended objectives are not fully accomplished in one fell swoop. In Nigerian history, we have seen all types of coups-attempted, aborted, failed, phantom, incomplete and complete. They are all different, though they all share a common foundation.

Nigeria’s first incomplete coup was the one led by the majors – notably Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Adewale Ademoyega and their co- revolutionaries on the 15th of January 1966. Their critical objective was to overthrow Balewa’s government, release Awolowo from prison and enthrone him as the Prime Minister. Due to the poor performance of some of the team members and the resistance of some officers like Lt-Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in Kano and the counter moves of General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi in Lagos, the coup became incomplete. Balewa was overthrown but Awolowo was not installed as Prime Minister then. But following a sequence of events initiated by this incomplete coup, Awolowo was subsequently released from prison and made the defacto Premier under Yakubu Gowon’s ‘presidency’

Another example of an incomplete military coup in Nigeria was the one organised by Col Buka Suka Dimka on the 13th of February 1976. They planned to overthrow General Murtala Muhammed and install their own government. But following the intervention of guys like Ibrahim Babangida, the coup became incomplete. Murtala was overthrown but Murtala’s guys led by Olusegun Obasanjo and Theophilus Danjuma remained in power.

A classical example of a successfully completed coup was the one carried out by TY Danjuma and his co-conspirators on the 27th July 1966, when they succeeded in dethroning Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi and changing his government, installing Yakubu Gowon as the head of state. This coup instigated a series of events that led to the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-1970. On the other hand, a classical example of a failed coup was that executed by Gideon Okar and his altruistic group in 1990. It failed on the two counts. It could not overthrow IBB and therefore could not install a new government. However, some commentators have opined that if Orkar’s coup had succeeded, may be the problem that has held and continues to hold Nigeria down would have been long solved.

Last week on the 24th of July 2018, something that looked like a civilian equivalent of an incomplete military coup happened in Nigeria. On one single day 14 senators and 36 Federal Representatives decamped from the ruling APC to the opposition parties, mostly PDP. Something similar had happened in 2014 in the run up to the 2015 general elections with the formation of nPDP, a breakaway faction of PDP, but it was not as dramatic. What happened last week was an epic drama full of plots and counter plots. The first act was enacted with the formation of rAPC a few weeks ago by the same elements who formed nPDP, except that this time they were more virulent. They knew where they were going but decided to act out the drama script.

What heightened the theatre and suspense was the rather belated attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) to abort the coup. He held several meetings with leaders of the legislature. He should have hired IBB, who has tremendous experience in aborting coups. But that may not have been possible, because those who know how to read signs tell me IBB was part of the coup plot. But then PMB hired Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who these same fellows with clairvoyant powers tell me is the one assigned the role of finally liquidating the APC. While PMB was trying to placate and do damage-control, Adams was blaring on all cylinders threatening fire and brimstone. Not only was he abusing, cursing and threatening the ready to decamp, decamping and des-camping legislators, he was threatening to help some ministers decamp! APC must find a way to exorcise the spirit of trade unionism activism from Oshiomhole before the prediction that he is the APC undertaker finds early fulfilment.

The legislative ‘coup’ of 24th July was incomplete. It is certain that the last minute Gestapo-type effort to abort the ‘coup’ and perhaps stage a pre-emptory ‘coup’ similar to that of the five majors, may have delayed the completion of the original ‘coup’. It is alleged that a pre-emptory ‘coup’ was going to happen. Saraki and Ekweremadu were to be prevented from going to the Senate chambers that morning. They had been invited late 23rd evening to appear at different police offices to answer some questions and while there, the planned defections would not have held, rather the two would have been removed from office.

Thus an event that would have held on Thursday, the last legislative date before the long recess seemed to have been moved forward to Tuesday with premature adjournment to frustrate the pre-emptory ‘coup’. Therefore, for now, some of the objectives of the legislative coup have been achieved. In the Senate for example, the number of senators in opposition exceeds the number still in the ruling party. I suspect, this may be similar to what now obtains in the House of Representatives. This will certainly change the balance of power in both houses. What is more, more defections and perhaps much weightier ones may happen at resumption. Who knows, this legislative ‘coup’ may then be brought to a full and successful closure and the 2019 political equation would have become more easily solvable.

Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR. sam@starteamconsult.com

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